In our ongoing quest to publish as much information and as many perspectives as possible on the Denny/Sealth project, as a final decision gets closer, we had wondered here why supporters didn’t seem to be speaking out publicly. Tonight, in comments on this post below, a Denny teacher supporting the co-located campus has spoken out – the school’s music director – and especially considering not everyone reads the comment sections, we wanted to highlight it here:
Over the past year that I have had the opportunity to work on the BEX committee, I have had numerous talks with Mr. Clark, the Denny principal regarding this project and the ongoing debate surrounding it. I know for a fact that Mr. Clark supports option 2, the â€œadjoinedâ€ campus, because he sincerely believes option 2 is what is best for kids. (I posted his letter on this subject in my previous comment and I have the attachment if anyone would like it forwarded to them).
Having listened to everything for the past year and having consistently participated on the BEX committee, I tend to agree that an adjoined campus is in the best interest of our students. I say adjoined and not combined because I believe that â€œadjoinedâ€ is a more accurate description of what has actually been proposed and I have spoken to a lot of kids (and some adults) who have misconceived notions about what was actually proposed. The only â€œcombinedâ€ part of the campus, where the students would be regularly encountering one another, is our music department, which is largely combined already with students from Denny going to Sealth for orchestra and choir, and Sealth students coming up to Denny for steel drums.
In a recent survey of the Denny staff (January 30, 2008) 63% of the Denny staff supported or somewhat supported what is being referred to as Option 2, the adjoined campus. 22% were supportive or somewhat supportive of separate campuses, with the remaining 15% checking a box marked neutral. The Denny homeroom representatives, in their most recent meeting saw the districtâ€™s budget comparison of Options 2 and 3, including the list of upgrades to be performed to Sealth under the two plans, and saw the drawings that have been done so far of the adjoined campus. They listened to the input of their student represenative to the BEX committee, and discussed the pros and cons of having the middle school next door to the high school. After much back and forth, the Denny homeroom representatives issued a unanimous statement in favor of the adjoined campus. They are working with the administration on plans for grade level assemblies to occur next week, to present the information to the Denny students as a whole and to do a survey to invite their input. I think this is particularly relevant because, although the vast majority of the high school students will never have to attend school in the adjoined campus, the middle school students are the ones who will ultimately have to live with whatever is decided. Although I am personally of the opinion that adults, not students, should be making decisions about what is best for kids, if we are going to consider student opinion, the middle school students support for the adjoined campus should be given special consideration and weight.
As for me personally, I support the adjoined campus because I believe it affords us with an opportunity to build a 6-12th grade â€œnestâ€ around these students, to create the framework for collaboration and sequential instruction, to foster mentoring and tutoring programs between the two schools, to support the development of specialized programs for both middle and high school students, to support the maintenance of studentsâ€™ relationships with positive adult figures from their middle school experience, and to work together as a community to address the real challenges faced by many of our students. While there are undoubtedly going to be challenges that come along with any change, it is clear that we need to do something to help the many kids who are falling through the gaps, for example students dropping out of school. To the extent that we can create continuity and a sense of community for these kids, it is a good thing.
One of the primary concerns I have heard expressed with this project has been a reported danger of mixing the student populations. Personally, I think the risks are being overblown. In all the pleas for evidence to support the academic benefits, has anyone presented any real evidence that bringing a middle school and a high school in close proximity will bring about the doomsday I hear so many predicting? I student taught at Chinook M.S. and Tyee H.S. in the Highline district (two schools separated by a parking lot), and I was never aware of any issues there. Is there any data to suggest that this has worked out disastrously in the many other places where this has been tried? Or, are we just assuming the worst of our students?
Personally, I would argue that adjoining these two campuses has the opportunity to actually improve the security situation as it will enable the teachers and administrators to make concrete plans for how to move students around safely, and will put directly in our face the mixing, that is already occurring, and that our two block distance has previously allowed us to ignore. Furthermore, my understanding is that as with any new project being completed now, we will have security cameras and access points with ID card readers.
Students live up or down to the expectations of the adults in their lives. If we believe in them, educate them, and demand that they live up to high behavioral standards, they will. If we are convinced they canâ€™t, they wonâ€™t. Up until last year, Denny and Sealth students rode the same school busses to school every day with next to no incidents (and this was under the supervision of a bus driver who was watching the road). Today, the students still manage to commingle safely on the streets coming to and from school and in the after school hours at the community center and the Westwood Shopping Center.
The students at this adjoined campus will not be mixed. They will have separate schools and separate facilities, including a completely divided lunchroom facility. It is not a â€œcombinedâ€ school, but two schools adjoined.
Having been on the design committee, I had the opportunity to travel with the group that went to New York and Boston. My observation from the visits at the schools in New York and Boston was that the kids we saw in those schools were excelling, despite the fact that those buildings were not designed with the 6-12 environment in mind. In those schools, middle and high school students shared a single building, sometimes with just a sign and a door separating high school classes from middle school ones. In at least two of the three schools we visited, over 90% of the graduating classes were accepted into colleges and universities, and none of the students I spoke to expressed any issues about having middle schoolers and high schoolers near each other. While I have heard my colleagues make the case that those are different kids and a different situation, I am convinced that our kids are every bit as good and as capable as the kids in New York, Boston and anywhere else. If kids in other schools can excel in the difficult environment of multiple ages in a single building, I know our kids can excel in a well-planned environment where they will not be sharing one building, but a large campus with separate facilities for middle and high school programs.
Thanks for taking the time to hear me out. I am convinced that as a community we can not only make this work, but we can ultimately realize all the potential benefits of better curriculum alignment, increased collaboration, improved programming, and greater continuity from middle school to high school. For these reasons, I strongly support Option 2.
Marcus J. Pimpleton
Music Director, Denny Middle School
Director, Seattle Schools All-City Band
Again, this originally appeared in the comment thread below this post, where the same author earlier posted a previously circulated letter from Denny’s principal Jeff Clark (a letter from Sealth principal John Boyd was circulated last week). WSB archives of Denny/Sealth coverage are here, including reminders about tomorrow night’s meeting @ CSHS.